The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, , at sacred-texts.com
Introduction by The Right Hon. SIR JOHN RHY^S, M.A.; D.Litt., F.B.A., Hon. LL.D. of the University of Edinburgh; Professor of Celtic in the University of Oxford; Principal of Jesus College; author of Celtic Folklore, Welsh and Manx, &c.
The folk-lore of Wales in as far as it concerns the Fairies consists of a very few typical tales, such as:--
(1) The Fairy Dance and the usual entrapping of a youth, who dances with the Little People for a long time, while he supposes it only a few minutes, and who if not rescued is taken by them.
(2) There are other ways in which recruits may be led into Fairyland and induced to marry fairy maidens, and any one so led away is practically lost to his kith and kin, for even if he be allowed to visit them, the visit is mostly cut short in one way or another.
(3) A man catches a fairy woman and marries her. She proves to be an excellent housewife, but usually she has had put into the marriage-contract certain conditions which, if broken, inevitably release her from the union, and when so released she hurries away instantly, never to return, unless it be now and then to visit her children. One of the conditions, especially in North Wales, is that the husband should never touch her with iron. But in the story of the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach, in Carmarthenshire, the condition is that he must not strike the wife without a cause three times, the striking being interpreted to include any slight tapping, say, on the shoulder. This story is one of the most remarkable on record in Wales, and it recalls the famous tale of Undine, published in German many years ago by
[paragraph continues] De La Motte Fouqué. It is not known where he found it, or whether the people among whom it was current were pure Germans or of Celtic extraction.
(4) The Fairies were fond of stealing nice healthy babies and of leaving in their place their own sallow offspring. The stories of bow the right child might be recovered take numerous forms; and some of these stories suggest how weak and sickly children became the objects of systematic cruelty at the hands of even their own parents. The changeling was usually an old man, and many were the efforts made to get him to betray his identity.
(5) There is a widespread story of the fairy husband procuring for his wife the attendance of a human midwife. The latter was given a certain ointment to apply to the baby's eyes when she dressed it. She was not to touch either of her own eyes with it, but owing to an unfailing accident she does, and with the eye so touched she is enabled to see the fairies in their proper shape and form. This has consequences: The fairy husband pays the midwife well, and discharges her. She goes to a fair or market one day and observes her old master stealing goods from a stall, and makes herself known to him. He asks her with which eye she sees him. She tells him, and the eye to which he objects he instantly blinds.
(6) Many are the stories about the fairies coming into houses at night to wash and dress their children after everybody is gone to bed. A servant-maid who knows her business leaves a vessel full of water for them, and takes care that the house is neat and tidy, and she then probably finds in the morning some fairy gift left her, whereas if the house be untidy and the water dirty, they will pinch her in her sleep, and leave her black and blue.
(7) The fairies were not strong in their household arrangements, so it was not at all unusual for them to come to the farm-houses to borrow what was wanting to them.
In the neighbourhood of Snowdon the fairies were believed to live beneath the lakes, from which they sometimes came forth, especially on misty days, and children used to be warned not to stray away from their homes in that sort of
weather, lest they should be kidnapped by them. These fairies were not Christians, and they were great thieves. They were fond of bright colours. They were sharp of hearing, and no word that reached the wind would escape them. If a fairy's proper name was discovered, the fairy to whom it belonged felt baffled. 1
Some characteristics of the fairies seem to argue an ancient race, while other characteristics betray their origin in the workshop of the imagination; but generally speaking, the fairies are heterogeneous, consisting partly of the divinities of glens and forests and mountains, and partly of an early race of men more or less caricatured and equipped by fable with impossible attributes. 2
JESUS COLLEGE, OXFORD,
Our field of research in the Land of Arthur includes all the coast counties save Cardiganshire, from Anglesey on the north to Glamorganshire on the south. At the very beginning of our investigation of the belief in the Tylwyth Teg,
or 'Fair Folk' in the Isle of Anglesey or Mona, the ancient stronghold of the Druids, we shall see dearly that the testimony offered by thoroughly reliable and prominent native witnesses is surprisingly uniform, and essentially animistic in its nature; and in passing southward to the end of Wales we shall find the Welsh Fairy-Faith with this same uniformity and exhibiting the same animistic background everywhere we go.
Mr. John Louis Jones, of Gaerwen, Anglesey, a native bard who has taken prizes in various Eisteddfods, testifies as follows:--
Tylwyth Teg's Visits.--'When I was a boy here on the island, the Tylwyth Teg were described as a race of little beings no larger than children six or seven years old, who visited farm-houses at night after all the family were abed. No matter how securely dosed a house might be, the Tylwyth Teg had no trouble to get in. I remember how the old folk used to make the house comfortable and put fresh coals on the fire, saying, "Perhaps the Tylwyth Teg will come tonight." Then the Tylwyth Teg, when they did come, would look round the room and say, "What a clean beautiful place this is!" And all the while the old folk in bed were listening. Before departing from such a clean house the Tylwyth Teg always left a valuable present for the family.'
Fairy Wife and Iron Taboo.--'A young man once caught one of the Tylwyth Teg women, and she agreed to live with him on condition that he should never touch her with iron.
One day she went to a field with him to catch a horse, but in catching the horse he threw the bridle in such a way that the bit touched the Tylwyth Teg woman, and all at once she was gone. As this story indicates, the Tylwyth Teg could make themselves invisible. I think they could be seen by some people and not by other people. The old folk thought them a kind of spirit race from a spirit world.'
Owing to the very kindly assistance of Mr. E. H. Thomas, of Llangefni, who introduced me to the oldest inhabitants of his town, in their own homes and elsewhere, and then acted as interpreter whenever Welsh alone was spoken, I gleaned very clear evidence from that part of Central Anglesey. Seven witnesses, two of whom were women, ranging in age from seventy-two to eighty-nine years, were thus interviewed, and each of them stated that in their childhood the belief in the Tylwyth Teg as a non-human race of good little people--by one witness compared to singing angels--was general. Mr. John Jones, the oldest of the seven, among much else, said in Welsh:--'I believe personally that the Tylwyth Teg are still existing; but people can't see them. I have heard of two or three persons being together and one only having been able to see the Tylwyth Teg.'
Perhaps nowhere else in Celtic lands could there be found as witnesses two sisters equal in age to Miss Mary Owen and Mrs. Betsy Thomas, in their hundred and third and hundredth year respectively (in 1909). They live a quiet life on their mountain-side farm overlooking the sea, in the beautiful country near Pentraeth, quite away from the rush and noise of the great world of commercial activity; and they speak only the tongue which their prehistoric Kimric ancestors spoke before Roman, or Saxon, or Norman came to Britain. Mr. W. Jones, of Plas Tinon, their neighbour, who knows English and Welsh well, acted as interpreter. The elder sister testified first:--
'Tylwyth Teg's' Nature.--'There were many of the Tylwyth Teg on the Llwydiarth Mountain above here, and round the Llwydiarth Lake where they used to dance; and whenever the prices at the Llangefni market were to be high they would chatter very much at night. They appeared only after dark; and all the good they ever did was singing
and dancing. Ann Jones, whom I knew very well, used often to see the Tylwyth Teg dancing and singing, but if she then went up to them they would disappear. She told me they are an invisible people, and very small. Many others besides Ann Jones have seen the Tylwyth Teg in these mountains, and have heard their music and song. The ordinary opinion was that the Tylwyth Teg are a race of spirits. I believe in them as an invisible race of good little people.'
Fairy Midwife and Magic Oil.--'The Tylwyth Teg had a kind of magic oil, and I remember this story about it. A farmer went to Llangefni to fetch a woman to nurse his wife about to become a mother, and he found one of the Tylwyth Teg, who came with him on the back of his horse. Arrived at the farm-house, the fairy woman looked at the wife, and giving the farmer some oil told him to wash the baby in it as soon as it was born. Then the fairy woman disappeared. The farmer followed the advice, and what did he do in washing the baby but get some oil on one of his own eyes. Suddenly he could see the Tylwyth Teg, for the oil had given him the second-sight. Some time later the farmer was in Llangefni again, and saw the same fairy woman who had given him the oil. "How is your wife getting on?" she asked him. "She is getting on very well," he replied. Then the fairy woman added, "Tell me with which eye you see me best." "With this one," he said, pointing to the eye he had rubbed with the oil. And the fairy woman put her stick in that eye, and the farmer never saw with it again.' 1
Seeing 'Tylwyth Teg'.--The younger sister's testimony is as follows:--'I saw one of the Tylwyth Teg about sixty years ago, near the Tynymyndd Farm, as I was passing by at night. He was like a little man. When I approached him he disappeared suddenly. I have heard about the dancing and singing of the Tylwyth Teg, but never have heard the music myself. The old people said the Tylwyth Teg could appear and disappear when they liked; and I think as the old people did, that they are some sort of spirits.'
At Pentraeth, Mr. Gwilyn Jones said to me:--'It always was and still is the opinion that the Tylwyth Teg are a race of spirits. Some people think them small in size, but the one my mother saw was ordinary human size.' At this, I immediately asked Mr. Jones if his mother was still living, and he replying that she was, gave me her address in Llanfair. So I went directly to interview Mr. Jones's mother, Mrs. Catherine Jones, and this is the story about the one of the Tylwyth Teg she saw:--
'Tylwyth Teg' Apparition.--'I was coming home at about half-past ten at night from Cemaes, on the path to Simdda Wen, where I was in service, when there appeared just before me a very pretty young lady of ordinary size. I had no fear, and when I came up to her put out my hand to touch her, but my hand and arm went right through her form. I could not understand this, and so tried to touch her repeatedly with the same result; there was no solid substance in the body, yet it remained beside me, and was as beautiful a young lady as I ever saw. When I reached the door of the house where I was to stop, she was still with me. Then I said "Good night" to her. No response being made, I asked, "Why do you not speak?"
And at this she disappeared. Nothing happened afterwards, and I always put this beautiful young lady down as one of the Tylwyth Teg. There was much talk about my experience when I reported it, and the neighbours, like myself,
thought I had seen one of the Tylwyth Teg. I was about twenty-four years old at the time of this incident.' 1
Just before crossing the Menai Straits I had the good fortune to meet, at his home in Llanfair, Mr. J. Morris Jones, M.A. (Oxon.), Professor of Welsh in the University College at Bangor, and he, speaking of the fairy-belief in Anglesey as he remembers it from boyhood days, said:--
'Tylwyth Teg.'--'In most of the tales I heard repeated when I was a boy, I am quite certain the implication was that the Tylwyth Teg were a kind of spirit race having human characteristics, who could at will suddenly appear and suddenly disappear. They were generally supposed to live underground, and to come forth on moonlight nights, dressed in gaudy colours (chiefly in red), to dance in circles in grassy fields. I cannot remember having heard changeling stories here in the Island: I think the Tylwyth Teg were generally looked upon as kind and good-natured, though revengeful if not well treated. And they were believed to have plenty of money at their command, which they could bestow on people whom they liked.'
Upon leaving Anglesey I undertook some investigation of the Welsh fairy-belief in the country between Bangor and Carnarvon. From the oldest Welsh people of Treborth
[paragraph continues] I heard the same sort of folk-lore as we have recorded from Anglesey, except that prominence was given to a flourishing belief in Bwganod, goblins or bogies. But from Mr. T. T. Davis Evans, of Port Dinorwic, I heard the following very unusual story based on facts, as he recalled it first hand:--
Jones's Vision.--William Jones, who some sixty years ago declared be had seen the Tylwyth Teg in the Aberglaslyn Pass near Beddgelert, was publicly questioned about them in Bethel Chapel by Mr. Griffiths, the minister; and he explained before the congregation that the Lord had given him a special vision which enabled him to see the Tylwyth Teg, and that, therefore, he had seen them time after time as little men playing along the river in the Pass. The minister induced Jones to repeat the story many times, because it seemed to please the congregation very much; and the folks present looked upon Jones's vision as a most wonderful thing.'
To Mr. E. D. Rowlands, head master of the schools at Afonwen, I am indebted for a summary of the fairy-belief in South Carnarvonshire:--
'Tylwyth Teg.'--'According to the belief in South Carnarvonshire, the Tylwyth Teg were a small, very pretty people always dressed in white, and much given to dancing and singing in rings where grass grew. As a rule, they were visible only at night; though in the day-time, if a mother while hay-making was so unwise as to leave her babe alone in the field, the Tylwyth Teg might take it and leave in its place a hunchback, or some deformed object like a child. At night, the Tylwyth Teg would entice travellers to join their dance and then play all sorts of tricks on them.' 1
Fairy Cows and Fairy Lake-Women.--'Some of the
[paragraph continues] Tylwyth Teg lived in caves; others of them lived in lake-bottoms. There is a lake called Llyn y Morwynion, or "Lake of the Maidens ", near Festiniog, where, as the story goes, a farmer one morning found in his field a number of very fine cows such as he had never seen before. Not knowing where they came from, he kept them a long time, when, as it happened, he committed some dishonest act and, as a result, women of the Tylwyth Teg made their appearance in the pasture and, calling the cows by name, led the whole herd into the lake, and with them disappeared beneath its waters. The old people never could explain the nature of the Tylwyth Teg, but they always regarded them as a very mysterious race, and, according to this story of the cattle, as a supernatural race.'
Mr. Louis Foster Edwards, of Harlech, recalling the memories of many years ago, offers the following evidence:--
Scythe-Blades and Fairies.--'In an old inn on the other side of Harlech there was to be an entertainment, and, as usual on such occasions, the dancing would not cease until morning. I noticed, before the guests had all arrived, that the landlady was putting scythe-blades edge upwards up into the large chimney, and, wondering why it was, asked her. She told me that the fairies might come before the entertainment was over, and that lithe blades were turned edge upwards it would prevent the fairies from troubling the party, for they would be unable to pass the blades without being cut.'
'Tylwyth Teg' and their World.--'There was an idea that the Tylwyth Teg lived by plundering at night. It was thought, too, that if anything went wrong with cows or horses the Tylwyth Teg were to blame. As a race, the Tylwyth Teg were described as having the power of invisibility; and it was believed they could disappear like a spirit while one happened to be observing them. The world in which they lived was a world quite unlike ours, and mortals taken to it by them were changed in nature.
[paragraph continues] The way a mortal might be taken by the Tylwyth Teg was by being attracted into their dance. If they thus took you away, it would be according to our time for twelve months, though to you the time would seem no more than a night.'
From Mr. D. Davies-Williams, who outlined for me the Montgomeryshire belief in the Tylwyth Teg as he has known it intimately, I learned that this is essentially the same as elsewhere in North and Central Wales. He summed up the matter by saying:--
Belief in Tylwyth Teg.--'It was the opinion that the Tylwyth Teg were a real race of invisible or spiritual beings living in an invisible world of their own. The belief in the Tylwyth Teg was quite general fifty or sixty years ago, and as sincere as any religious belief is now.'
Our next witness is the Rev. Josiah Jones, minister of the Congregational Church of Machynlleth; and, after a lifetime's experience in Montgomeryshire, he gives this testimony:--
A Deacon's Vision.--'A deacon in my church, John Evans, declared that he had seen the Tylwyth Teg dancing in the day-time, within two miles from here, and he pointed out the very spot where they appeared. This was some twenty years ago. I think, however, that he saw only certain reflections and shadows, because it was a hot and brilliant day.'
Folk-Beliefs in General.--'As I recall the belief, the old people considered the Tylwyth Teg as living beings halfway between something material and spiritual, who were rarely seen. When I was a boy there was very much said, too, about corpse-candles and phantom funerals, and especially about the Bwganod, plural of Bwgan, meaning a sprite, ghost, hobgoblin, or spectre. The Bwganod were supposed to appear at dusk, in various forms, animal and human; and grown-up people as well as children had great fear of them.'
A Minister's Opinion.--'Ultimately there is a substance of truth in the fairy-belief, but it is wrongly accounted for in the folk-lore: I once asked Samuel Roberts, of Llanbrynmair, who was quite a noted Welsh scholar, what he thought of the Tylwyth Teg, of hobgoblins, spirits, and so forth; and he said that he believed such things existed, and that God allowed them to appear in times of great ignorance to convince people of the existence of an invisible world.'
No one of our witnesses from Central Wales is more intimately acquainted with the living folk-beliefs than Mr. J. Ceredig Davies, of Llanilar, a village about six miles from Aberystwyth; for Mr. Davies has spent many years in collecting folk-lore in Central and South Wales. He has interviewed the oldest and most intelligent of the old people, and while I write this be has in the press a work entitled The Folk-Lore of Mid and West Wales. Mr. Davies very kindly gave me the following outline of the most prominent traits in the Welsh fairy-belief according to his own investigations:--
'Tylwyth Teg'.--'The Tylwyth Teg were considered a very small people, fond of dancing, especially on moonlight nights. They often came to houses after the family were abed; and if milk was left for them, they would leave money in return; but if not treated kindly they were revengeful. The changeling idea was common: the mother coming home would find an ugly changeling in the cradle. Sometimes the mother would consult the Dynion Hysbys, or "Wise Men" as to how to get her babe back. As a rule, treating the fairy babe roughly and then throwing it into a river would cause the fairy who made the change to appear and restore the real child in return for the changeling.'
'Tylwyth Teg' Marriage Contracts.--'Occasionally a young man would see the Tylwyth Teg dancing, and, being drawn into the dance, would be taken by them and married to one of their women. There is usually some condition in the
marriage contract which becomes broken, and, as a result, the fairy wife disappears--usually into a lake. The marriage contract specifies either that the husband must never touch his fairy wife with iron, or else never beat or strike her three times. Sometimes when fairy wives thus disappear, they take with them into the lake their fairy cattle and all their household property.'
'Tylwyth Teg' Habitations.--'The Tylwyth Teg were generally looked upon as an immortal race. In Cardigan-shire they lived underground; in Carmarthenshire in lakes; and in Pembrokeshire along the sea-coast on enchanted islands amid the Irish Sea. I have heard of sailors upon seeing such islands trying to reach them; but when approached, the islands always disappeared. From a certain spot in Pembrokeshire, it is said that by standing on a turf taken from the yard of St. David's Cathedral, one may see the enchanted islands.' 1
'Tylwyth Teg' as Spirits of Druids.--'By many of the old people the Tylwyth Teg were classed with spirits. They were not looked upon as mortal at all. Many of the Welsh looked upon the Tylwyth Teg or fairies as the spirits of Druids dead before the time of Christ, who being too good to be cast into Hell were allowed to wander freely about on earth.'
At Pontrhydfendigaid, a village about two miles from the railway-station called Strata Florida, I had the good fortune to meet Mr. John Jones, ninety-four years old, yet of strong physique, and able to write his name without eye-glasses. Both Mr. J. H. Davies, Registrar of the University College of Aberystwyth, and Mr. J. Ceredig Davies, the eminent folk-lorist of Llanilar, referred me to Mr. John Jones as one of the most remarkable of living Welshmen who could tell about the olden times from first-hand knowledge.
[paragraph continues] Mr. John Jones speaks very little English, and Mr. John Rees, of the Council School, acted as our interpreter. This is the testimony:--
Pygmy-sized 'Tylwyth Teg'.--'I was born and bred where there was tradition that the Tylwyth Teg lived in holes in the hills, and that none of these Tylwyth Teg was taller than three to four feet. It was a common idea that many of the Tylwyth Teg, forming in a ring, would dance and sing out on the mountain-sides, or on the plain, and that if children should meet with them at such a time they would lose their way and never get out of the ring. If the Tylwyth Teg fancied any particular child they would always keep that child, taking off its clothes and putting them on one of their own children, which was then left in its place. They took only boys, never girls.'
Human-sized 'Tylwyth Teg'.--'A special sort of Tylwyth Teg used to come out of lakes and dance, and their line looks enticed young men to follow them back into the lakes, and there marry one of them. If the husband wished to leave the lake he had to go without his fairy wife. This sort of Tylwyth Teg were as big as ordinary people; and they were often seen riding out of the lakes and back again on horses.'
'Tylwyth Teg' as Spirits of Prehistoric Race.--'My grandfather told me that he was once in a certain field and heard singing in the air, and thought it spirits singing. Soon afterwards he and his brother in digging dikes in that field dug into a big hole, which they entered and followed to the end. There they found a place full of human bones and urns, and naturally decided on account of the singing that the bones and urns were of the Tylwyth Teg.' 1
A Boy's Visit to the 'Tylwyth Teg's' King.--'About
eighty years ago, at Tynylone, my grandfather told me this story: "A boy ten years old was often whipped and cruelly treated by his schoolmaster because he could not say his lessons very well. So one day he ran away from school and went to a river-side, where some little folk came to him and asked why he was crying. He told them the master had punished him; and on heating this they said, 'Oh! if you will stay with us it will not be necessary for you to go to school. We will keep you as long as you like.' Then they took him under the water and over the water into a cave underground, which opened into a great palace where the Tylwyth Teg were playing games with golden balls, in rings like those in which they dance and sing. The boy had been taken to the king's family, and he began to play with the king's sons. After he had been there in the palace in the full enjoyment of all its pleasures he wished very much to return to his mother and show her the golden ball which the Tylwyth Teg gave him. And so he took the ball in his pocket and hurried through the cave the way he had come; but at the end of it and by the river two of the Tylwyth Teg met him, and taking the ball away from him they pushed him into the water, and through the water he found his way home. He told his mother how he had been away for a fortnight, as he thought, but she told him it had been for two years. Though the boy often tried to find the way back to the Tylwyth Teg he never could. Finally, he went back to school, and became a most wonderful scholar and parson."' 1
The Rev. T. M. Morgan, vicar of Newchurch parish, two miles from Carmarthen, has made a very careful study of the folk-traditions in his own parish and in other regions
of Carmarthenshire, and is able to offer us evidence of the highest value, as follows:-- 1
'Tylwyth Teg' Power over Children.--'The Tylwyth Teg were thought to be able to take children. "You mind, or the Tylwyth Teg will take you away," parents would say to keep their children in the house after dark. It was an opinion, too, that the Tylwyth Teg could transform good children into kings and queens, and bad children into wicked spirits, after such children bad been taken--perhaps in death. The Tylwyth Teg were believed to live in some invisible world to which children on dying might go to be rewarded or punished, according to their behaviour on this earth. Even in this life the Tylwyth Teg had power over children for good or evil. The belief, as these ideas show, was that the Tylwyth Teg were spirits.'
'Tylwyth Teg' as Evil Spirits.--A few days after my return to Oxford, the Rev. T M. Morgan, through his son, Mr. Basil I. Morgan, of Jesus College, placed in my hands additional folk-lore evidence from his own parish, as follows:--'After Mr. Wentz visited me on Thursday, September 30, 1909, I went to see Mr. Shem Morgan, the occupier of Cwmcastellfach farm, an old man about seventy years old. He told me that in his childhood days a great dread of the fairies occupied the heart of every child. They were considered to be evil spirits who visited our world at night, and dangerous to come in contact with; there were no good spirits among them. He related to me three narratives touching the fairies':--
'Tylwyth Teg's' Path.--The first narrative illustrates that the Tylwyth Teg have paths (precisely like those reserved for the Irish good people or for the Breton dead), and that it is death to a mortal while walking in one of these paths to meet the Tylwyth Teg.
'Tylwyth Teg' Divination.--The second narrative I quote:--'A farmer of this neighbourhood having lost his cattle,
went to consult y dyn hysbys (a diviner), in Cardiganshire, who was friendly with the fairies. Whenever the fairies visited the diviner they foretold future events, secrets, and the whereabouts of lost property. After the farmer reached the diviner's house the diviner showed him the fairies, and then when the diviner had consulted them he told the farmer to go home as soon as he could and that he would find the cattle in such and such a place. The farmer did as he was directed, and found the cattle in the very place where the dyn hysbys told him they would be.' And the third narrative asserts that a man in the parish of Trelech who was fraudulently excluded by means of a false will from inheriting the estate of his deceased father, discovered the defrauder and recovered the estate, solely through having followed the advice given by the Tylwyth Teg, when (again as in the above account) they were called up as spirits by a dyn hysbys, a Mr. Harries, of Cwrt y Cadno, a place near Aberystwyth. 1
Mr. David Williams, J.P., who is a member of the Cymmrodorion Society of Carmarthen, and who has sat on the judicial bench for ten years, offers us the very valuable evidence which follows:--
'Tylwyth Teg' and their King and Queen.--'The general idea, as I remember it, was that the Tylwyth Teg were only visitors to this world, and had no terrestrial habitations. They were as small in stature as dwarfs, and always appeared in white. Often at night they danced in rings amid green fields. Most of them were females, though they had a king; and, as their name suggests, they were very beautiful in appearance. The king of the Tylwyth Teg was called Gwydion
ab Don, Gwyd referring to a temperament in man's nature. His residence was among the stars, and called Caer Gwydion. His queen was Gwenhidw. I have heard my mother call the small fleece-like clouds which appear in fine weather the Sheep of Gwenhidw.' 1
'Tylwyth Teg' as Aerial Beings.--Mr. Williams's testimony continues, and leads us directly to the Psychological or Psychical Theory:--'As aerial beings the Tylwyth Teg could fly and move about in the air at will. They were a special order of creation. I never heard that they grew old; and whether they multiplied or not I cannot tell. In character they were almost always good.'
Ghosts and Apparitions.--Our conversation finally drifted towards ghosts and apparitions, as usual, and to Druids. In the chapter dealing with Re-birth (pp. 390-1) we shall record what Mr. Williams said about Druids, and here what he said about ghosts and apparitions:--'Sixty years ago there was hardly an individual who did not believe in apparitions; and in olden times Welsh families would collect round the fire at night and each in turn give a story about the Tylwyth Teg and ghosts.'
Conferring Vision of a Phantom Funeral.--'There used to be an old man at Newchurch named David Davis (who lived about 1780--1840), of Abernant, noted for seeing
phantom funerals. One appeared to him once when he was with a friend. "Do you see it? Do you see it?" the old man excitedly asked. "No," said his friend. Then the old man placed his foot on his friend's foot, and said, "Do you see it now?" And the friend replied that he did.' 1
Magic and Witchcraft.--Finally, we shall hear from Mr. Williams about Welsh magic and witchcraft, which cannot scientifically be divorced from the belief in fairies and apparitions:--'There used to be much witchcraft in this country; and it was fully believed that some men, if advanced scholars, had the power to injure or to bewitch their neighbours by magic. The more advanced the scholar the better he could carry on his craft.'
My friend, and fellow student at Jesus College, Mr. Percival V. Davies, of Carmarthen, contributes, as supplementary to what has been recorded above, the following evidence, from his great-aunt, Mrs. Spurrell, also of Carmarthen, a native Welshwoman who has seen a canwyll gorff (corpse-candle):--
Bendith y Mamau.--.'In the Carmarthenshire country, fairies (Tylwyth Teg) are often called Bendith y Mamau, the "Mothers' Blessing."'
How Ten Children Became Fairies.--'Our Lord, in the days when He walked the earth, chanced one day to approach a cottage in which lived a woman with twenty children. Feeling ashamed of the size of her family, she hid half of them from the sight of her divine visitor. On His departure she sought for the hidden children in vain; they had become fairies and had disappeared.'
Our Pembrokeshire witness is a maiden Welshwoman, sixty years old, who speaks no English, but a university graduate, her nephew, will act as our interpreter. She was
born and has lived all her life within sight of the famous Pentre Evan Cromlech, in the home of her ancestors, which is so ancient that after six centuries of its known existence further record of it is lost. In spite of her sixty years, our witness is as active as many a city woman of forty or forty-five. Since her girlhood she has heard curious legends and stories, and, with a more than ordinary interest in the lore of her native country, has treasured them all in her clear and well-trained memory. The first night, while this well-stored memory of hers gave forth some of its treasures, we sat in her own home, I and my friend, her nephew, on one side in a chimney-seat, and she and her niece on the other side in another, exposed to the cheerful glow and warmth of the fire. When we had finished that first night it was two o'clock, and there had been no interruption to the even flow of marvels and pretty legends. A second night we spent likewise. What follows now is the result, so far as we are concerned with it:--
Fairies and Spirits.--'Spirits and fairies exist all round us, invisible. Fairies have no solid bodily substance. Their forms are of matter like ghostly bodies, and on this account they cannot be caught. In the twilight they are often seen, and on moonlight nights in summer. Only certain people can see fairies, and such people hold communication with them and have dealings with them, but it is difficult to get them to talk about fairies. I think the spirits about us are the fallen angels, for when old Doctor Harris died his books on witchcraft had to be burned in order to free the place where he lived from evil spirits. The fairies, too, are sometimes called the fallen angels. They will do good to those who befriend them, and harm to others. I think there must be an intermediate state between life on earth and heavenly life, and it may be in this that spirits and fairies live. There are two distinct types of spirits: one is good and the other is bad. I have heard of people going to the fairies and finding that years passed as days, but I do not believe in changelings, though there are stories enough about them. That there are fairies and other spirits like them, both good
and bad, I firmly believe. My mother used to tell about seeing the "fair-folk" dancing in the fields near Cardigan; and other people have seen them round the cromlech up there on the hill (the Pentre Evan Cromlech). They appeared as little children in clothes like soldiers' clothes, and with red caps, according to some accounts.
Death-Candles Described.--'I have seen more than one death-candle. I saw one death-candle right here in this room where we are sitting and talking.' I was told by the nephew and niece of our present witness that this particular death-candle took an untrodden course from the house across the fields to the grave-yard, and that when the death of one of the family occurred soon afterwards, their aunt insisted that the corpse should be carried by exactly the same route; so the road was abandoned and the funeral went through the ploughed fields. Here is the description of the death-candle as the aunt gave it in response to our request:--'The death-candle appears like a patch of bright light; and no matter how dark the room or place is, everything in it is as clear as day. The candle is not a flame, but a luminous mass, lightish blue in colour, which dances as though borne by an invisible agency, and sometimes it rolls over and over. If you go up to the light it is nothing, for it is a spirit. Near here a light as big as a pot was seen, and rays shot out from it in all directions. The man you saw here in the house to-day, one night as he was going along the road near Nevern, saw the death-light of old Dr. Harris, and says it was lightish green.'
Gors Goch Fairies.--Now we began to hear more about fairies:--'One night there came a strange rapping at the door of the ancient manor on the Gors Goch farm over in Cardiganshire, and the father of the family asked what was wanted. Thin, silvery voices said they wanted a warm place in which to dress their children and to tidy them up. The door opened then, and in came a dozen or more little beings, who at once set themselves to hunting for a basin and water, and to cleaning themselves. At daybreak they departed, leaving a pretty gift in return for the kindness.
[paragraph continues] In this same house at another time, whether by the same party of little beings or by another could not be told, a healthy child of the family was changed because he was unbaptized, and a frightful-looking child left in his place. The mother finally died of grief, and the other children died because of the loss of their mother, and the father was left alone. Then some time after this, the same little folks who came the first time returned to clean up, and when they departed, in place of their former gifts of silver, left a gift of gold. It was not long before the father became heir to a rich farm in North Wales, and going to live on it became a magician, for the little people, still befriending him, revealed themselves in their true nature and taught him all their secrets.'
Levi Salmon's Control of Spirits.--'Levi Salmon, who lived about thirty years ago, between here and Newport, was a magician, and could call up good and bad spirits; but was afraid to call up the bad ones unless another person was with him, for it was a dangerous and terrible ordeal. After consulting certain books which he had, he would draw a circle on the floor, and in a little while spirits like bulls and serpents and other animals would appear in it, and all sorts of spirits would speak. It was not safe to go near them; and to control them Levi held a whip in his hand. He would never let them cross the circle. And when he wanted them to go away he always had to throw something to the chief spirit.'
The Haunted Manor and the Golden Image.--I offer now, in my own language, the following remarkable story:--The ancient manor-house on the Trewern Farm (less than a mile from the Pentre Evan Cromlech) bad been haunted as long as anybody could remember. Strange noises were often heard in it, dishes would dance about of their own accord, and sometimes a lady dressed in silk appeared. Many attempts were made to lay the ghosts, but none succeeded. Finally things got so bad that nobody wanted to live there. About eighty years ago the sole occupants of the haunted house were Mr.------ and his two servants. At the time, it was well known in the neighbourhood that all
at once Mr.------ became very wealthy, and his servants seemed able to buy whatever they wanted. Everybody wondered, but no one could tell where the money came from; for at first he was a poor man, and be couldn't have made much off the farm. The secret only leaked out through one of the servants after Mr.--was dead. The servant declared to certain friends that one of the ghosts, or, as he thought, the Devil, appeared to Mr.------- and told him there was an image of great value walled up in the room over the main entrance to the manor. A search was made, and, sure enough, a large image of solid gold was found in the very place indicated, built into a recess in the wall. Mr.------ bound the servants to secrecy, and began to turn the image into money. He would cut off small pieces of the image, one at a time, and take them to London and sell them. In this way he sold the whole image, and nobody was the wiser. After the image was found and disposed of, ghosts were no longer seen in the house, nor were unusual noises heard in it at night. The one thing which beyond all doubt is true is that when Mr.------ died he left his son an estate worth about £50,000 (an amount probably greatly in excess of the true one); and people have always wondered ever since where it came from, if not in part from the golden image. 1
Hundreds of parallel stories in which, instead of ghosts, fairies and demons are said to have revealed hidden treasure could be cited.
Our investigations in Glamorganshire cover the most interesting part, the peninsula' of Gower, where there are peculiar folk-lore conditions, due to its present population being by ancestry English and Flemish as well as Cornish and Welsh. Despite this race admixture, Brythonic beliefs have generally survived in Gower even among the non-Cults; and because of the Cornish element there are pixies, as shown by the following story related to me in Swansea by Mr. ------, a well-known mining engineer:--
Pixies.--'At Newton, near the Mumbles (in Gower), an old woman, some twenty years ago, assured me that she had seen the pixies. Her father's grey mare was standing in the trap before the house ready to take some produce to the Swansea market, and when the time for departure arrived the pixies had come, but no one save the old woman could see them. She described them to me as like tiny men dancing on the mare's back and climbing up along the mare's mane. She thought the pixies some kind of spirits who made their appearance in early morning; and all mishaps to cows she attributed to them.'
The Rev. John David Davis, rector of Llanmadoc and Cheriton parishes, and a member of the Cambrian Archaeological Society, has passed many years in studying the antiquities and folk-lore of Gower, being the author of various antiquarian works; and he is without doubt the oldest and best living authority to aid us. The Rector very willingly offers this testimony:--
Pixies and 'Verry Volk'.--'In this part of Gower, the name Tylwyth Teg is never used to describe fairies; Verry Volk is used instead. Some sixty years ago, as I can remember, there was belief in such fairies here in Gower, but now there
is almost none. Belief in apparitions still exists to some extent. One may also hear of a person being pixy-led; the pixies may cause a traveller to lose his way at night if he crosses a field where they happen to be. To take your coat off and turn it inside out will break the pixy spell. 1 The Verry Volk were always little people dressed in scarlet and green; and they generally showed themselves dancing on moonlight nights. I never heard of their making changelings, though they had the power of doing good or evil acts, and it was a very risky thing to offend them. By nature they were benevolent.'
A 'Verry Volk' Feast.--'I heard the following story many years ago:--The tenant on the Eynonsford Farm here in Gower had a dream one night, and in it thought he heard soft sweet music and the patter of dancing feet. Waking up, he beheld his cow-shed, which opened off his bedroom, filled with a multitude of little beings, about one foot high, swarming all over his fat ox, and they were preparing to slaughter the ox. He was so surprised that he could not move. In a short time the Verry Volk had killed, dressed, and eaten the animal. The feast being over, they collected the hide and bones, except one very small leg-bone which they could not find, placed them in position, then stretched the hide over them; and, as the farmer looked, the ox appeared as sound and fat as ever, but when he let it out to pasture in the morning he observed that it had a slight lameness in the leg lacking the missing bone.' 2
The population of the Llanmadoc region of Gower are generally English by ancestry and speech; and not until reaching Llanmorlais, beyond Llanridian, did I find anything like an original Celtic and Welsh-speaking people, and these may have come into that part within comparatively recent times; and yet, as the above place-names tend to prove, in early days all these regions must have been Welsh. It may be argued, however, that this English-speaking population may be more Celtic than Saxon, even though emigrants from England. In any case, we can see with interest how this so-called English population now echo Brythonic beliefs which they appear to have adopted in Gower, possibly sympathetically through race kinship; and the following testimony offered by Miss Sarah Jenkins, postmistress of Llanmadoc, will enable us to do so:--
Dancing with Fairies.--'A man, whose Christian name was William, was enticed by the fairy folk to enter their dance, as he was on his way to the Swansea market in the early morning. They kept him dancing some time, and then said to him before they let him go, "Will dance well; the last going to market and the first that shall sell." And though he arrived at the market very late, be was the first to sell anything.'
Fairy Money.--'An old woman, whom I knew, used to find money left by the fairies every time they visited her house. For a long time she observed their request, and told no one about the money; but at last she told, and so never found money afterwards.
Nature of Fairies.--'The fairies (verry volk) were believed to have plenty of music and dancing. Sometimes they appeared dressed in bright red. They could appear and disappear suddenly, and no one could tell how or where.'
Much more might easily be said about Welsh goblins, about Welsh fairies who live in caves, or about Welsh fairy women who come out of lakes and rivers, or who are the
presiding spirits of sacred wells and fountains, 1 but these will have some consideration later, in Section III. For the purposes of the present inquiry enough evidence has been offered to show the fundamental character of Brythonic fairy-folk as we have found them. And we can very appropriately close this inquiry by allowing our Welsh-speaking witness from the Pentre Evan country, Pembrokeshire, to tell us one of the prettiest and most interesting fairy-tales in all Wales. The name of Taliessin appearing in it leads us to suspect that it may be the remnant of an ancient bardic tale which has been handed down orally for centuries. It will serve to illustrate the marked difference between the short conversational stories of the living Fairy-Faith and the longer, more polished ones of the traditional Fairy-Faith; and we shall see in it how a literary effect is gained at the expense of the real character of the fairies themselves, for it transforms them into mortals:--
Einion and Olwen.--'My mother told the story as she used to sit by the fire in the twilight knitting stockings:--"One day when it was cloudy and misty, a shepherd boy going to the mountains lost his way and walked about for hours. At last he came to a hollow place surrounded by rushes where he saw a number of round rings. He recognized the place as one he had often heard of as dangerous for shepherds, because of the rings. He tried to get away from there, but he could not. Then an old, merry, blue-eyed man appeared. The boy, thinking to find his way home, followed the old man, and the old man said to him, 'Do not speak a word till I tell you.' In a little while they came to a menhir (long stone). The old man tapped it three times, and then lifted it up. A narrow path with steps descending was revealed, and from it emerged a bluish-white light. 'Follow me,' said the old man, 'no harm will come to you.' The boy did so, and it was not long before he saw a fine, wooded, fertile country with a beautiful palace, and rivers and mountains. He reached the palace and was enchanted by the
singing of birds. Music of all sorts was. in the palace, but he saw no people. At meals dishes came and disappeared of their own accord. He could hear voices all about him, but saw no person except the, old man--who said that now he could speak. When he tried to speak he found that he could not move his tongue. Soon an old lady with smiles came to him leading three beautiful maidens, and when the maidens saw the shepherd boy they smiled and spoke, but he could not reply. Then one of the girls kissed him; and all at once he began to converse freely and most wittily. In the full enjoyment of the marvellous country he lived with the maidens in the palace a day and a year, not thinking it more than a day, for there was no reckoning of time in that land. When the day and the year were up, a longing to see his old acquaintances came on him; and thanking the old man for his kindness, he asked if he could return home. The old man said to him, 'Wait a little while'; and so he waited. The maiden who bad kissed him was unwilling to have him go; but when he promised her to return, she sent him off loaded with riches.
'"At home not one of his people or old friends knew him. Everybody believed that he had been killed by another shepherd. And this shepherd had been accused of the murder and had fled to America.
'"On the first day of the new moon the boy remembered his promise, and returned to the other country; and there was great rejoicing in the beautiful palace when he arrived. Einion, for that was the boy's name, and Olwen, for that was the girl's name, now wanted to marry; but they had to go about it quietly and half secretly, for the fair-folk dislike ceremony and noise. When the marriage was over, Einion wished to go back with Olwen to the upper world. So two snow-white ponies were given them, and they were allowed to depart.
'"They reached the upper world safely; and, being possessed of unlimited wealth, lived most handsomely on a great estate which came into their possession. A son was born to them, and he was called Taliessin. People soon
began to ask for Olwen's pedigree, and as none was given it was taken for granted that she was one of the fair-folk. 'Yes, indeed,' said Einion, 'there is no doubt that she is one of the fair-folk, there is no doubt that she is one of the very fair-folk, for she has two sisters as pretty as she is, and if you saw them all together you would admit that the name is a suitable one.' And this is the origin of the term fair-folk (Tylwyth Teg)."'
From Wales we go to the nearest Brythonic country, Cornwall, to study the fairy-folk there.
137:1 Sir John Rhy^s tells me that this Snowdon fairy-lore was contributed by the late Lady Rhy^s, who as a girl lived in the neighbourhood of Snowdon and heard very much from the old people there, most of whom believed in the fairies; and she herself then used to be warned, in the manner mentioned, against being carried away into the under-lake Fairyland.
137:2 Cf. Celtic Folklore, Welsh and Manx, pp. 683-4 n., where Sir John Rhy^s says of his friend, Professor A. C. Haddon:--'I find also that he, among others, has anticipated me in my theory as to the origins of the fairies; witness the following extract from the syllabus of a lecture delivered by him at Cardiff in 1894 on Fairy Tales:--"What are the fairies?--Legendary origin of the fairies. It is evident from fairy literature that there is a mixture of the possible and the impossible, of fact and fancy. Part of fairydom refers to (1) spirits that never were embodied: other fairies are (2) spirits of environment, nature or local spirits, and household or domestic spirits; (3) spirits of the organic world, spirits of plants, and spirits of animals (4) spirits of men, or ghosts; and (5) witches and wizards, or men possessed with other spirits. All these, and possibly other elements, enter into the fanciful aspects of Fairyland, but there is a large residuum of real occurrences; these point to a clash of races, and we may regard many of these fairy sagas as stories told by men of the Iron Age of events which happened to men of the Bronze Age in their conflicts with men of the Neolithic Age, and possibly these, too, handed on traditions of the Palaeolithic Age.''
140:1 This is the one tale I have found in North Wales about a midwife and fairies--a type of tale common to West Ireland, Isle of Man, Cornwall, and Brittany, but in a reverse version, the midwife there being (as she is sometimes in Welsh versions) one of the human race called in by fairies. if evidence of the oneness of the Celtic mind were needed we should find it here (Cf. pp. 50, 54, 127, 175, 182, 205). There are in this type of fairy tale, as the advocates of the Pygmy Theory may well hold, certain elements most likely traceable to a folk-memory of some early race, or special class of some early race, who knew the secrets of midwifery and the use of medicines when such knowledge was considered magical. But in each example of this midwife story there is the germ idea--no matter what other ideas cluster round it--that fairies, like spirits, are only to be seen by an extra-human vision, or, as psychical researchers might say, by clairvoyance.
142:1 After this remarkable story, Mrs. Jones told me about another very rare psychical experience of her own, which is here recorded because it Illustrates the working of the psychological law of the association of ideas:--'My husband, Price Jones, was drowned some forty years ago, within four miles of Arms Head, near Bangor, on Friday at midday; and that night at about one o'clock he appeared to me in our bedroom and laid his head on my breast. I tried to ask him where he came from, but before I could get my breath he was gone. I believed at the time that he was out at sea perfectly safe and well. But next day, Saturday, at about noon, a message came announcing his death. I was as fully awake as one can be when I thus saw the spirit of my husband. He returned to me a second time about six months later.' Had this happened in West Ireland, it is almost certain that public opinion would have declared that Price Jones had been taken by the 'gentry' or 'good people'.
143:1 Here we find the Tylwyth Teg showing quite the same characteristics as Welsh elves in general, as Cornish pixies, and as Breton corrigans or lutins; that is, given to dancing at night, to stealing children, and to deceiving traveller.
147:1 This folk-belief partially sustains the view put forth in our chapter on Environment, that St. David's during pagan times was already a sacred spot and perhaps then the seat of a druidic oracle.
148:1 Here we have an example of the Tylwyth Teg being identified with a prehistoric race, quite in accordance with the argument of the Pygmy Theory. We have, however, as the essential idea, that the Tylwyth Teg heard singing were the spirits of this prehistoric race. Thus our contention that ancestral spirits play a leading part in the fairy-belief is sustained, and the Pygmy Theory appears quite at its true relative value--as able to explain one subordinate ethnological strand in the complex fabric of the belief.
149:1 This story is much like the one recorded by Giraldus Cambrensis about a boy going to Fairyland and returning to his mother (see this study, p. 324). The possibility that it may be an independent version of the folk-tale told to Cambrensis which has continued to live on among the people makes it highly interesting.
Mr. Jones gives further evidence on the re-birth doctrine in Wales (pp. 388-9), and concerning Merlin and sacrifice to appease place-spirits (pp. 436-7).
150:1 As a result of his researches, the Rev. T. M. Morgan has just published a new work, entitled The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Newchurch (Carmarthen, 1910).
151:1 In these last two anecdotes, as in modern 'Spiritualism', we observe a popular practice of necromancy or the calling up of spirits, so-called 'materialization' of spirits, and spirit communication through a human 'medium', who is the dyn hysbys, as well as divination, the revealing of things hidden and the foretelling of future events. This is direct evidence that Welsh fairies or the Tylwyth Teg were formerly the same to Welshmen as spirits are to Spiritualists now. We seem, therefore, to have proof of our Psychological Theory (see chap. xi).
152:1 Here we have a combination of many distinct elements and influences. As among mortals, so among the Tylwyth Teg there is a king; and this conception may have arisen directly from anthropomorphic influences on the ancient Brythonic religion, or it may have come directly from druidic teachings. The locating of Gwydion ab Don, like a god, in a heaven-world, rather than like his counterpart, Gwynn ab Nudd, in a hades-world, is probably due to a peculiar admixture of Druidism and Christianity: at first, both gods were probably druidic or pagan, and the same, but Gwynn ab Nudd became a demon or evil god under Christian influences, while Gwydion ab Don seems to have curiously retained his original good reputation in spite of Christianity (cf. p. 320). The name Gwenhidw reminds us at once of Arthur's queen Gwenhwyvar or 'White Apparition'; and the sheep of Gwenhidw can properly be explained by the Naturalistic Theory. It seems, however, that analogy was imaginatively suggested between the Queen Gwenhidw as resembling the Welsh White Lady or a ghost-like being, and her sheep, the clouds, also of a necessarily ghost-like character. All this is an admirable illustration of the great complexity of the Fairy-Faith.
153:1 The parallel between this Welsh method of conferring vision and the Breton method is very striking (cf. p. 215)
157:1 This is the substance of the story as it was told to me by a gentleman who lives within sight of the farm where the image is said to have been found. And one day he took me to the house and showed me the room and the place in the wall where the find was made. The old manor is one of the solidest and most picturesque of its kind in Wales, and, in spite of its extreme age, well preserved. He, being as a native Welshman of the locality well acquainted with its archaeology, thinks it safe to place an age of six to eight hundred years on the manor. What is interesting about this matter of age arises from the query, Was the image one of the Virgin or of some Christian saint, or was it a Druid idol? Both opinions are current in the neighbourhood, but there is a good deal in favour of the second. The region, the little valley on whose side stands the Pentre Evan Cromlech, the finest in Britain, is believed to have been a favourite place with the ancient Druids; and in the oak groves which still exist there tradition says there was once a flourishing pagan school for neophytes, and that the cromlech instead of being a place for interments or f or sacrifices was in those days completely enclosed, forming like other cromlechs a darkened chamber in which novices when initiated were placed for a certain number of days--the interior being called the 'Womb or Court of Ceridwen'.
159:1 The same remedy is prescribed in Brittany when mischievous lutins or corrigans lead a traveller astray, in Ireland when the good people lead a traveller astray; and at Rollright, Oxfordshire, England, an old woman told me that it is efficacious against being led astray through witchcraft. Obviously the fairy and witch spell are alike.
159:2 The same sort of a story as this is told in Lower Brittany, where the corrigans or lutins slaughter a farmer's fat cow or ox and invite the farmer to partake of the feast it provides. If he does so with good grace and humour, he finds his cow or ox perfectly whole in the morning, but if he refuses to join the feast or joins it unwillingly, in the morning he is likely to find his cow or ox actually dead and eaten.
161:1 See Sir John Rhy^s, Celtic Folk-Lore: Welsh and Manx (Oxford, 1901), passim.